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What the heck is it with Arizona?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 25, 2008

I don’t know that I would say Arizona just has our number — I’d put UCLA in that category this year, and I would have put Oregon in that category last year — but man, there is something about playing WSU that absolutely brings out the best in the Wildcats.

Longball referred to them as the “short-handed McDiva All Americans from Arizona,” and maybe that’s a part of what happens. It’s clear that Arizona coach Kevin O’Neill did a good bit of appealing to the Wildcats’ pride, and with a chance to make a very good case for their inclusion in the NCAA tournament, the weren’t about to let a bunch of nobodies from nowhere stop them. Their play almost screamed, “Washington State? Who the heck is Washington State? We’re freaking Arizona. You think you’re the only ones who can play hard? We’ll show you what it’s like to play hard with All-American talent, something you’ll never have.”

And that was the difference on Saturday. Simply, Arizona wanted it more.

Sure, we hung around for a half; despite shooting 28 percent, we only trailed by a point. As I flipped over to watch the end of Memphis/Tennessee, I actually felt pretty good. Our best offense was in front of us and despite the hot start by Chase Budinger, our defense had been very good for most of the half — remember, Arizona scored its 11th point at about the 14 minute mark, but finished the half with just 24. Pretty darn good.

But something funny happened after halftime. The Wildcats just willed themselves to a victory, while we just wilted.

In second chance points, Arizona held just a 4-2 advantage in the first half; in the second half, it was 5-0 Arizona. In points off turnovers, the Cougs held a slim 6-5 advantage in the first half; in the second half, it was 12-2 Arizona. Those are sure signs of one of two things: Either being physically dominated or being caught flat-footed after being outworked. I don’t think the former is the case; Jo-Jo and I were exchanging text messages as we watched the game, and the thing we kept coming back to is we just don’t think Arizona is a better team than we are. So the latter must have been the case, especially in terms of the turnovers. Most of them were of the sloppy variety, and those are the ones that lead to extreme advantages for the offense.

Of course, that’s just the defense, which allowed a 115.9 efficiency after not allowing an opponent to exceed 96 in four games. The offense was even worse; this was by far the worst weekend of offense we’ve seen all season. Our shooting was bad against Arizona State, but it was absolutely horrendous against Arizona — just 39 percent in effective field goal percentage. That is positively brutal. It led to an offensive efficiency rating of just 98.0, easily our lowest of the Pac-10 season.

Against ASU, I was willing to chalk it up to a bad night, especially since I felt like the shots we were getting were good shots that just weren’t falling. Against Arizona, however, not only was it a bad night shooting, but it was a bad night with decisions and schemes. Credit Arizona for doing a great job manning up — seriously, how many screens does Derrick Low have to run through to get open? — but we did not help ourselves. A perfect example is that I think we know by now what Aron Baynes can and can’t do; if his teammates all of a sudden start asking him to do things they should know he can’t do, well, in my book that’s on them and not on him.

Since both were bad for what I see as different reasons, I’m not sure what kind of reasonable conclusions we can draw from the outcomes. What I’m hoping is that this isn’t pointing to what I’m afraid it’s pointing to — tired legs. We’ll know a lot more this weekend, especially against Stanford, and I really hope I’m wrong.

Whether we should be worried going forward will be a subject of a post later today, but I do know this: Enough playing around. Let’s figure out a way to bring it this weekend, starting with some payback against Cal on Thursday.


7 Responses to “What the heck is it with Arizona?”

  1. Ptowncoug said

    It’s interesting I was unable to watch both AZ games and we lost. Is there a connection? I think so. I am now committed to avoiding/disregarding/not listening to any and all plans that my wife makes or attempts to make if it will put in jeopardy my ability to watch the Cougs.
    From the read of things, it appears that Baynes had some difficulty with the ball. The funny thing is that it is nothing new. I’m not sure, but Baynes needs to get game film on Love to see how to effectively deal with a double team.
    There is a good possibility that we may be playing AZ in the 1st rd of the Pac tourney. Yikes!

  2. Nuss said

    Other than my harping on Baynes about silly fouls — which, incidentally, seems to have gotten much better — I think he gets a bad rap more often than not. His hands actually have improved greatly since last year. You could not pass him the ball under virtually any circumstance last year. His footwork also is vastly improved, and he’s not putting the ball on the floor much or holding it down where guards can strip it. That’s a pretty fair amount of improvement from one year to the next.

    The reason I point those things out is this: It’s fairly obvious that passing out of double teams is the next step in his game. He never had to worry about it before because he was never good enough to be double teamed in the post. Now he is. Certainly, there’s a certain amount of feel to it, but it’s also something that can be improved with practice. It’s not going to happen this year, but bet on him being much better at that next year.

    It just comes down to Baynes’ teammates being smart about recognizing what he does well and putting him in the best position possible to succeed. Maybe he wasn’t doing a good enough job putting himself in those spots with good post position and such on Saturday and that’s why he only played 16 minutes — only Tony Bennett knows that, though.

  3. Ptowncoug said

    I acknowledge that one-step, one-year at time thing with Baynes. He has drastically improved. However, my belief, and as recognized in your response, he lacks court awareness. Awareness comes to athletes when the game slows down for them. It’s like Keanu in the Matrix.
    Baynes has trouble feeling the oncoming double team as well as realizing where he is on the court with his right handed hook. Again, I am a big proponent of playing Harmeling (If Harmeling could learn to dribble penetrate and pull up for Js we would be deadly!) or Forrest instead of Baynes a good portion of the time to help with offensive flow of the game. I know, I know, your rebounding statistics when big Baynes is on the floor. I just think when we are obviously struggling offensively, its because we are standing around trying to get the ball into Baynes.
    Also never is more frustrating that passing a ball to a guy who drops it all the time. I would rather pass to a guy who then travels or dribbles off his foot than a guy who can’t catch my pass to begin with.
    Notwithstanding the foregoing beat down on Baynes, we simply need a guy to step up and be our scorer when times get rough. Every great team has that and we have guys once in awhile become that guy, but then go into hiding. I think Rochie is the guy because he can dribble penetrate and not afraid to fling from way down town, however he sometimes gets tenative around bigs in the paint. Come on Rochie, where’s that Steve McNashy!

  4. TiltingRight said

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen any comments on Weaver’s poor shot selection. For a senior to have made those mental mistakes was pretty bad. Hope he got that out of his system.

  5. Joe said

    Arizona game. Well, what went wrong with the Arizona game? Hmmmmm….. 2 words: Bayless and Buddinger. Those 2 guys absolutely killed us. It was a freakin’ replay of the first game. Absolutely sickening.

    Offense. Where will the Cougs find offense in the Tourney? One wild card player is Forrest. The dude can actually shoot a midrange (14′-16′) jump shot. He’s shooting 54% from the field and he has touch around the rim. It’s like watching Horace (or Harvey) Grant all over again.

    3-pt. shooters. This team’s overall 3-pt. % is almost the same as last year’s (~37%). However, the glaring difference between this year and last year has to be Harmelling’s 3-pt. % (43% last year vs. 38% this year.) Harmelling’s 3-pt. attempts are also down (3.9 last year vs. 3.2 this year), probably due to lack of confidence in his stroke. If Harmelling’s struggles continue, should coach Bennett consider giving more minutes to others (i.e. Forrest) at the expense of Harmelling?

    Koprivica. Not to put too much emphasis on one player, but is there another player in Division I basketball that is hurting his team more than Koprivica? I understand he is recovering from an injury, but it is very hard to believe that you are talking about the same player when you line up his stat line last year vs. this year. Last year, he per game averages were as follows: 14.2 min., 4.6 pts., 1.5 reb., and almost 1 assist. This year’s line: 11.4 min., 2.6 pts., 1.0 reb., and 0.6 ast. But perhaps the most telling statistic is assist-to-turnover ration: last year it was a 1.3/1; this year it is reversed (1/1.3)

  6. Nuss said

    Again, I am a big proponent of playing Harmeling (If Harmeling could learn to dribble penetrate and pull up for Js we would be deadly!) or Forrest instead of Baynes a good portion of the time to help with offensive flow of the game.

    And that might have been part of what you saw on Saturday with Baynes only getting 16 minutes. It seemed like after Thursday’s funky performance and the slow start, TB was doing whatever he could to jumpstart the offense. Honestly, I think it’s a matchup thing — Jordan Hill is just the kind of athletic big man Baynes really struggles with.

    And Joe, I wouldn’t worry too much about where we’re going to “find” offense. Until this weekend, our offense had been plenty good enough. If we get back to doing what we’ve done all year, we’ll be in good shape. That’s why the tired legs angle scares me — if that’s what’s going on, we’re not going to be able to get back to what we were doing.

  7. Joe said

    Plus, what’s up with Weaver’s poor shot selection?

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